Even though opinion polls show Germans staunchly behind the clean energy transition (82 percent), the barrage of negative press of late has clearly wounded the Energiewende.
“When these myths are repeated again and again, they sink in,” German energy expert Claudia Kemfert told me. “Not so long ago Germans were extremely concerned about climate change and the dangers of nuclear power. Now they’re scared of the Energiewende.”
The fact that one of the Energiewende’s staunchest opponents presides over one of the government’s most powerful ministries – namely the Ministry for Economic Planning – has slowed, though not stopped, the transition. In 2011 a change in the feed-in tariff regulations slashed the subsidy for PV, or solar energy. An effort to remove at least some industry from the list of those exempt from the renewables surcharge was also squashed this year. Germany’s positions – often pushed through by the economics ministry against the wishes of the less muscular environment ministry – have halted critical Energiewende-related legislation at the EU level, such as initiatives to make energy efficiency criteria binding and another to resuscitate the carbon emissions trading scheme.
Yet despite these body blows, the energy transition has not been halted, and Germans still want it to go forward. Led by PV and onshore wind, capacity has grown consistently, as has production. PV supply jumped 51 percent from 19.3 gigawatts in 2011 to 28.5 gigawatts in 2012. Slashed incentives late in the year did slow PV’s dramatic ascent in the final quarter, but not by that much. In 2012 Germany installed 1,008 new wind turbines (2011: 895) with a total capacity of 2,439 megawatts (2011: 2,008).
The demand for more renewables capacity, above all from municipal and state-level (Länder) governments, has pushed the Energiewende forward from below. Earlier this year, a play by energy hawks to cut subsidies further and to tax renewables producers retroactively was thwarted – by the chancellor herself, who has of late said very little about the Energiewende and for the most part has refrained from intervening in spats between the environment and economics ministries.
“This most recent attempt by opponents of the Energiewende to turn back the Energiewende was the last of its kind that will be possible during this term,” the Bavarian Christian Democratic MP Josef Göppel told Going Renewable, referring to an environment-ministry-led initiative earlier this year. “This failed because the chancellor stepped in, and next year there’s going to be a different coalition in office in Germany. The worst is behind us.”
Indeed, there will be little new as the campaign heats up, with the exception of strident rhetoric. It will be interesting to see how Merkel positions her party on Energiewende issues, if at all. After all, though she certainly did not coin the moniker “Energiewende,” it is linked to her name and administration. If they fail to fill it with positive content, it could become a millstone around their necks.